A tale of three images.

Ramsey Island (on left) and the Bishops and Clerks, from Whitesands.
Ramsey Island (on left) and the Bishops and Clerks, from Whitesands.

It has been a while since I last posted but things have been moving apace. Most of February and March was spent getting postcards out into shops in various parts of Wales. It is always difficult to drag oneself out of the semi-hibernation of mid-winter and this year was particularly fraught because Easter was so early.

It has to be admitted that sales of postcards are steadily declining. This is partly because people are using phones and Facebook to contact their friends while they are away but also because the number of potential outlets is declining rapidly. The perils of running a bookshop in the Amazon era are well recognised, but independent retailers of all kinds have been closing and are not being replaced in similar numbers. What is particularly sad is the number of Tourist Information Centres that have closed, will soon close or are under threat of closure. It is happening all over Wales as a result of cuts to local authority funding. It may be our local councils (and National Park authorities) that are having to make the difficult decision to close them but the root cause is central Government.

A selling trip that would until recently have taken two and a half days now takes two or less. But that does mean I have a little more time available for photography on these trips and I was lucky with the weather on some of them. After one particularly busy day in Pembrokeshire I was able to nip down to Whitesands, arriving just after sunset. I started a short high-tide walk along the beach but quickly ran back for the camera. The conditions were just stunning! I only had a few minutes to run off a few exposures and I wasn’t entirely happy with the composition in any of them. But I’ll settle for the above…….

On a trip up to north Wales I spent one night at Pen-y-pass YHA. I normally avoid youth hostels these days but Pen-y-pass is so well situated for an early morning walk in the foothills of Snowdon that in winter I occasionally make an exception. Unfortunately my dorm also contained a snorer so I had a disturbed night’s sleep and was not able to get up at the crack of dawn as I had hoped. But a little later on this was the view of the Snowdon horseshoe from “The Horns”, situated between the PyG and Miners’ paths.

Snowdon summit and Y Lliwedd
Y Lliwedd, Yr Wyddfa and Crib Goch from “The Horns”

I was able to devote the whole of this superb day to photography so then headed off eastwards to photograph the packed masses of waders at their high-tide roost at the Point of Air, near Prestatyn. The only trouble was – there weren’t any. Just a handful of the commonest species. I then spent a couple of hours searching for, and failing to find, my current birding obsession – hawfinches. I won’t broadcast the location because villagers get pretty cheesed off with the behaviour of some birders, but there is a well-known site for this rare and elusive bird in the Conwy valley. So for the second time in one day I assumed I must be driving around in a van with a huge sign, facing upwards, on its roof saying “Bird photographer approaching destination – make a run for it”.

But I had more joy at my final location, the RSPB Conwy reserve at Llandudno Junction. There has been a starling roost there all winter and on my arrival I was pleased to discover they were still around. There was no wind and it looked like there would be a good sunset, so I found a location where I hoped the birds would be silhouetted against a stunning sky. There was even the possibility of a reflection for good measure!  Towards sunset small groups of starlings began to arrive, some time later than they do at Aberystwyth. And they just kept on coming!  Several sparrowhawks made appearances and made hunting dashes into the flock. The starlings created tightly-packed balls and ribbons of birds to try to evade them. It was fabulous to watch but set against part of the sky which was too dark to allow successfully photography.

It really was a very large flock by the time they eventually disappeared together into the reedbed. It was almost dark by that time and they had been displaying for some forty minutes since the first birds arrived.  It was interesting to compare this with their behaviour at  Aberystwyth, where they were going to roost some forty-five minutes earlier. I managed this image as the flock swirled over one the reserve’s shallow lagoons.

Starlings in pre-roost display, RSPB Conwy reserve.
Starlings in pre-roost display, RSPB Conwy reserve.

I don’t know if it be useable anywhere else but on the web.  It was taken at 6.31 pm on March 10th, using pretty extreme settings for this type of subject – 4000 ASA, 1/160th second and f4.

Finally, just before Easter, I installed part of my Bird/land exhibition in the Visitor Centre at RSPB Ynyshir. It will be showing there until May 30th; but for the full Bird/land experience wait until June 25th, when an updated and expanded version will be opening in the Photography Gallery at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Watch this space for more information.

 

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Whatever happened to fieldcraft? (Part four)

Choughs, Whitesands
Choughs, Whitesands

I really didn’t expect this series of posts to reach part four! But a couple of weeks ago I was down in Pembrokeshire and took an early morning walk from the car park at Whitesands towards St. David’s Head. An active cold front had pushed through overnight and as well as bringing heavy rain, it formed the leading edge of an arctic airmass which eventually covered the whole of the UK. The air was sparkling in its clarity and the temperature several degrees Celsius lower than it had been the previous day; very invigorating and ideal for the outdoor photographer!

After a landscape session at Porth Melgan and a frustrating hunt for migrant birds on St David’s Head, I returned to the van. I noticed there was a flock of choughs, rooks and jackdaws feeding in a nearby field. There was a pattern to their behaviour; they would start at one end of the field and work their way into the wind, feeding as they went, until they reached the hedge-bank. Then they flew back to the shoreline for a few minutes before returning to the field. I wondered if I could get myself into position at the end of the field while they were away and photograph them as they came towards me.  So I donned the nearest I had to camouflage gear and headed over.

Corvids are the most intelligent of birds and they noticed me immediately. But they were not entirely spooked; the chough, in particular, stayed faithful to the field and I felt sure that,  eventually, they would come close enough to be photographed. As the afternoon wore on and my body became more numb it became apparent that they were no longer so hungry and that feeding time was more or less over. So eventually never really came and I tried to be philosophical as I returned to the van. It was worth the try….wasn’t it?

Just a couple of days ago I had a look at the results from the session. In an ideal world  the birds would have been closer, but to my surprise a couple of images were actually quite useable. Thanks to the quality of my equipment – Canon 5d3 and Tamron 150-600 zoom – and the excellent light, I was able to crop down quite deeply into the image without encountering sharpness or noise problems. The image above begins to illustrate how full of character choughs really are.

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